Topic of the month April 2011

Oil, natural gas, and water run through them. Sometimes, also beer flows in them – to the football fans in the Schalke stadium for instance. They also transport mud, namely in the health resorts in Bad Schwartau. Nothing brings liquids and gases more efficiently from one place to another than pipelines. They are especially demanded as transporters of fossil fuels. Currently, in Germany there are several big pipeline projects under construction in order to supply gas to the country. Even carbon monoxide, ethylene, and yet salt are supposed to be piped across the Republic.

Construction of the OPAL pipeline

About three quarters of the worldwide reserves of natural gas are accessible via pipeline with-in a radius of 4,000 kilometers around Europe. Because of its geographical location, Germany plays an important distributional role, since the transport routes cross through the heart of Eu-rope. Now an important pipeline is added: 55 billion cubic meters of Siberian natural gas will soon flow through the Baltic Sea Pipeline to Germany. In the meantime, about 1,100 kilome-ters of the 1,224-kilometers-long first pipe between Wyborg, Russia, and the landing station in Lubmin, Germany, are lying in the water – 82 kilometers of it run across German seafloor. “The first hank of pipes is supposed to be put into operation by the end of this year, the second one by the year 2012,” explains Matthias Warnig, managing director of the Nord Stream AG. Through the new pipe, the EU gets connected to one of the biggest gas reserves of the world.

German consumers will benefit from the gas of the Baltic Sea Pipeline via the Baltic Sea Pipeline Connection Pipe (BSPCP) and the Northern Europe Natural Gas Pipe (NEGP). The work on the BSPCP between Lubmin and the Erzgebirge in Saxony is in its final stage. With a transport capacity of 36 billion cubic meters per year and a diameter of 1.4 meters, the BSPCP will be the biggest pipe for natural gas in Europe. “Meanwhile, the pipes are already laid on 430 of the 470 kilometers in total,” says Klaus Reisinger from the supervisory staff. Furthermore, the Russian gas is supposed to be fed in via the NEGP. One day, it is supposed to transport more than 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas, which is one fifth of the overall German requirement of natural gas. The construction of the 440-kilometers-long NEGP, from Lubmin to Rehden in Lower Saxony, has just started, and is supposed to be put into operation by autumn 2012. Until now, the BSPCP was regarded as Germany’s longest construction site, but now it will have to pass this title on to the NEGP.

The chemical manufacturer Bayer wishes to transport an entirely different material. Carbon monoxide (CO) is supposed to flow along a distance of 67 kilometers from Dormagen to Kre-feld-Uerdingen, where it is needed for the production of plastic. Additionally, an ethylene pipeline of 360 kilometers shall soon connect this chemical manufacturer in Southern Germany to the European ethylene pipeline network. For chemical manufacturers, the pipelines are just as important as telephone and electricity for other lines of business. And the use for pipelines reaches yet further: Even salt lye from the potash mining of the fertilizer manufacturer K+S could soon be disposed through the pipes. In order to spare the environment a pipeline of 63 kilometers is planned to discharge the lye into the lower reaches of the river Werra or to carry it into the Northern Sea.

Delivery for the Nord Stream-Pipeline

Before the pipelines can be used though, pressure tests have to take place under supervision of the TÜV. For instance, the carbon monoxide pipeline of Bayer has already been checked for a pressure higher than 200 bar, which is 15 times as high as the later operational pressure. To protect against damage, e.g. through excavators, a security net with colored warning ribbon has been laid over the pipe. Furthermore, the pipeline is surveyed with a modern leak detec-tion and localization system. When a fault is reported, the CO-pipeline can immediately be locked through several slide valves and be emptied on both sides. With regard to the gas pipes, it is especially paid attention to the stability of the welds. Via ultrasound and x-ray, everything is checked to within a millimeter. Neither an earthquake nor flood can damage the pipelines in Germany.

Normally, pipelines are laid one meter under ground. But the pipes also have to cross rivers and roads. Just the BSPCP crosses with 172 roads, four autobahns, 27 railway lines, and 39 greater stretches of water. When choosing the pipe route, the planners often orient themselves towards the existing infrastructure, in order to harm the landscape as little as possible. Thus, the carbon monoxide pipeline between Dormagen and Uerdingen has mostly been laid along autobahns and railway lines. Residential areas, water protection areas, protected forests, and other protected areas are circumvented or dug underneath. Commonly, pipelines in the sea are placed on the seafloor. In some areas though, such as landing areas or shipping channels, the pipelines are laid in a conduit, which is then filled with sand.

The pipelines require pipes in different sizes and from various materials, depending on the carried liquid or liquid gas. The plastic coated steel pipes of the carbon monoxide pipeline have particularly thick sides and are nevertheless flexible, so that they do not break when bent or pressed on. The 1153-millimeter-thick pipes of the Baltic Sea Pipeline are made of high-tensile steel, which is designed for the special demands under water. In order to make the transport capacity as high as possible, the inner side of the pipe has a coating which reduces the friction between pipe and gas. On the outside, the single pieces of pipe are covered with concrete, so that they lay with more stability on the seafloor.

In the near future, the pipelines could face new tasks: Presently, the so called CCS (Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage) method is tested. During this process, the carbon dioxide gas (CO2), which contributes to global warming and which is produced in the industry and through the burning of coal, is brought under ground. It is liquefied under high pressure and pressed into deep sandstone layers via pipeline. There the climate-harming gas is supposed to find its permanent disposal.


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